Preparing for Spring Birding: an eBird Q&A
Thumbnail image: Oliver Patrick/Macaulay Library
[Lisa Kopp] So welcome to today’s webinar from the Lab of Ornithology. Today is going to be a really fun. We’re going to be answering your questions as they relate to eBird. Not quite so much in upstate New York, but I know the weather is starting to change in certain places, and birds are starting to come back. So we’re hoping that today’s event and the next couple of weeks that we’re hosting webinars sort of around spring birding give you some great tips as you get out and about to see birds.
So my name’s Lisa Kopp. I’m on the Visitor Center Team at the Lab of Ornithology. And I’ll be facilitating today’s conversation. And joining us is Jenna Curtis and John Garrett, both from the eBird team at the Lab. Hi to you, both. Thank you for joining us.
Before we get into John and Jenna’s expertise, I’ve got a couple of quick announcements I want to make. As I said, today’s webinar is being hosted from Ithaca, New York. So I want to read a statement acknowledging the indigenous people as the original inhabitants of this area.
Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogoho:no, the Cayuga Nation. The Gayogoho:no are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign nations with historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State, and the United States of America. We acknowledge the painful history of the Gayogoho:no dispossession and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogoho:no people, past and present, to these lands and waters.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is home to a community of researchers and supporters from around the world who appreciate birds and biodiversity and the integral role that they play in our ecosystems. Our mission is to advance leading edge research, education, and citizen science that help solve pressing conservation challenges.
So just to make sure everybody is on the same page tech-wise, I want to make a few announcements just to make sure that everyone on Facebook and Zoom is ready to go. So first is closed captioning is available on Zoom. You can go to the very bottom of your screen and either hit the closed captioning button or the more button that has three dots next to it. And choose to either show or hide the transcript depending on what you need.
And for those of you on Zoom, you can use the Q&A button to submit questions. And we know many of you submitted questions that were fantastic in the registration portion of your Zoom sign-up. So we have created a script based on many of those questions, but we’ll also be looking at the Q&A on Zoom. And I have some wonderful colleagues who will be helping to answer questions that come up in the Q&A.
The chat is only going to be used for tech issues. So if you’ve got some problems with your display, or your sound, or something like that, things seem to be looking good on our end. So I always recommend checking your own settings in Zoom. But we are here to help if you have any questions. We’re also going to be using the chat for important links to different resources and information. So check on that throughout.
And then we are also streaming live on Facebook. Hello to everyone on Facebook. So if you want to submit questions when you’re watching on Facebook, you are welcome to use the comment section. And again, we’ve got great people behind the scenes who can help relay those questions on to me.
And while we’re going to do our best to answer as many questions as possible, there’s pretty much no end to the kinds of conversations you can have around the amazing tool that is eBird. So we’re going to do our best to answer some of the biggest buckets of questions and the questions that we think will really help you all on your way as you get ahead and get started for spring birding.
So we have gotten, like I said, so many great questions. And we are going to kick things off with looking at some of those first. So John and Jenna, we’re really happy to be able to have them here. And I said they are from the eBird team. What we are not going to be talking about today are Merlin or sort of bird ID, sort of specific species questions. There’s all sorts of incredible resources that the Lab has around those topics.
And we are hosting two more webinars on Tuesdays at noon over the next two weeks. And so we’ll drop in the chat how you can register for those events. Next week is about Merlin. And the week after is with ornithologist, Kevin McGowan. So both of those are going to be great opportunities to get a lot of your questions answered on those topics.
And so today, we’re going to be talking about eBird. So we will get started now. John and Jenna, thanks again for being here with us. And let’s just start with the basics, right? So we got a lot of pre-submitted questions that were sort of in the vein of where do I start? How do I get eBird going? I haven’t been able to do x, y, or z. Can you give me some insight? So Jenna, you want to get us started with that?
[Jenna Curtis] Yeah. Thanks so much for having us here today. Hi, everyone. If you’re interested in learning more about eBird, the best place to start is with the eBird Essentials course. This is a free, self-paced course. You take it online through the Bird Academy site. We will be popping the link to the eBird Essentials course and all of the chat and comments for you. That is the best place to start if you want to learn eBird. It’s got video walkthroughs, helpful tips, all the information that you need to get started.
A lot of people who start with eBird and a lot of the things that we’re discussing today could seem complex if you’re coming from pen and paper birding lists. But eBird Essentials makes it simple. Over 80% of the people who take the eBird essential course, whether they’re brand new or have been using eBird for years, tell us they feel a lot more confident afterwards. So if you’re interested in learning more about eBird, we’re going to answer as many questions as we can today. But head over to that eBird Essentials course to learn more.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. Excellent suggestion. So John, what does eBird do? Why would someone want to use that over, like Jenna was saying, pen and paper?
[John Garrett] Yeah. That’s a great question. So people have always loved birds. And there’s long been a community of people who look at birds, and listen to birds, and keep lists of birds. And eBird was kind of born of this idea of what would happen if there was a place that could harness all of this bird enthusiasm and passion and keep it in one place?
So eBird in my mind, it brings together kind of three groups of people. Birders, conservationists, and scientists. And it allows birders to use their bird observations to have kind of a greater purpose, to use their bird observations to inform science and conservation. It’s also fun. It’s designed to gather bird lists in a way that you can share them with other birders. You can see what sightings are around you and get to know yourself as you become a better birder yourself by using eBird’s tools and learning more about where and when birds occur. And it’s also available as a website and a free mobile app on iOS and Android.
[Lisa Kopp] Right. Yes. So you can use it at home for planning purposes. On the go while you’re birding. Have things live in your account in both places.
[John Garrett] Yeah.
[Lisa Kopp] So I mentioned right at the beginning that we weren’t going to be getting into the specifics of Merlin, but we actually already have a question in the Q&A. And it was submitted in advance to what is the difference between Merlin and eBird? And how are they connected or not connected?
[Jenna Curtis] I’ll take this one. eBird is great for folks who are generally familiar with the birds around them and the principles of birding, especially people who like to keep lists of birds that they see and hear and want to do so in a way that supports important research and bird conservation.
You don’t have to be a birding expert to use eBird. But it’s helpful to be familiar with local birds. I generally think if you can step outside your door and identify birds around you, not necessarily all of them, but most of them, you can eBird. If you’re just starting birding, we would recommend starting with the Merlin Bird ID app. Merlin is a free app that helps you to identify birds and explore local birds in your area. It’s great for everyone.
From expert birders who are traveling or just want to learn more about birds, to someone who has never identified a bird before in your life, Merlin is for you. And Merlin, you don’t need to know the birds around you to get started. Merlin can help you learn how to identify them better.
So if you’re just starting with a life list, you can build that in Merlin as well. think important to note, eBird and Merlin, eBird the listing app and Merlin the bird identification and exploration app, they use the same account. So if you start with Merlin or if you have a Merlin account, and you feel like eBird is right for you, you can just use that same account on both apps. Your life list will already be in eBird when you start birding.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. And I’ll say it again just in case people are trickling in now. Next week, same time, same day, Tuesday at noon, we’ll have a whole hour dedicated to Merlin. So you can join us to talk about that tomorrow. So we’re going to get into some data questions, which is sort of the planning stage of eBird, right? I’d say that that’s probably how we can think about it. So we got a lot of questions that asked about exploring data in eBird.
So I’ve got one question from Carolyn M, who wanted to know how to use eBird to find nearby sightings of a particular species. Kim K thought she saw a rare bird, wants to know whether anyone else has seen that species nearby, if she’s right or mistaken. And Martha J wants to know where to find records of Trumpeter Swans in Washington state. So John, I think you’re going to kick us off with exploring some of that data.
[John Garrett] Yeah, that sounds great. So I’m going to focus on that last question, Martha’s question about Trumpeter Swans because I think the answer to that will help with the answer to all of these. So I’m going to share my screen here. So here we’re looking at eBird. And what you can do. There we go. To eBird Explore. And from here, you can go to either Explore Species, Explore Regions. There’s all these different options here.
So if you want to look up Trumpeter Swans in Washington, the way I might do that is go to Species Maps. Type in Trumpeter Swan. And from here, you can enter a location to zoom in Washington. And this will show you a big purple grid map. So the darker colors means that there is more eBird checklists with that species reporting for that area.
So you can see like the darkest purples are over 40%. And palest purples are 0 to 2%. And what you can do is you can zoom in, and you can check, show points sooner. And then that will allow you when you zoom in just enough to see where all of these individual markers are. It’s the same going around here. And I can click on all of these individual markers if I want to get a better sense of where exactly to find Trumpeter Swans.
And you can do this all day. It’s a lot of fun. I waste a lot of hours in my day doing this. It’s great. And yeah. Does that answer the question?
[Lisa Kopp] I think so. Yes. And Jenna, you want to talk a little bit about the Species Maps on eBird mobile?
[Jenna Curtis] Yeah. Hopefully, everyone can see my eBird Mobile screen here I’m on an iOS but the steps for an Android device are very similar. So here, this is the eBird Mobile app. It allows you to submit lists and explore eBird data. I’m going to tap the Explore button down at the bottom of the screen. It’s going to default to my current location.
But what I can do is tap this edit button up in the right corner. And that will allow me to change to any region in the world. And I can explore data for that region. So I could go to Washington State. I could type it in. I could either choose a circle radius or a region. Both options are available up here. Again, this is the edit button up in the eBird Mobile’s Explore. Type in Washington.
It’ll take a little bit to load just because there’s so much data from this area. But when it loads, I can also choose how long ago I want to explore data for, whether for just the past day or the entire month. And these are all the hotspots in Washington state. Lots of exciting birding opportunities up there. But I’ll switch. Here, this little menu in the middle allows you to search both hotspots or tap it to search for species. And I can enter Trumpeter Swan.
And eBird Mobile will show me all of the recent reports of Trumpeter Swan on my smartphone, so that I can then pick a location and navigate to it using my maps. So that’s how you would also explore any species you’d want to look up on your mobile device if you don’t have a computer handy to follow John’s steps.
[Lisa Kopp] We got a really great question in the Q&A about both of what you were just showing, John and Jenna. It says, in regard to looking for a particular species, over what time period are the points shown? Sightings over the last year, month, ever.
[Jenna Curtis] Yeah. So here on eBird Mobile, I’m currently looking at sightings from the last seven days. I can go as far back as the last 30 days on a mobile device.
[Lisa Kopp] Great.
[Jenna Curtis] And then on the website, those are all time, unless you choose to filter it to a specific date, which you can also do on the website. But otherwise, if you don’t specify a date on the website, those are all Trumpeter Swan reported to eBird.
[John Garrett] Yeah. It’s a really good question. If it’s OK, I’d actually like to demo that.
[Lisa Kopp] That’d be great.
[John Garrett] So here’s that Trumpeter Swan map again. You can see here it says, year round all years. Click on that. And here, you can select any date range that you want. You can see just winter months or pick an individual month or current year if you want. And then you’ll just see the really recent observations. So great question. And yeah. I just wanted to show that really quickly.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. That is really helpful. And a good distinction to note for doing something on your desktop versus being out in the field on your phone. OK. So next question. Jennifer H asked, I’m looking to Bird Cape May for my birthday in April and would love to know where to bird in that area. So John, you want to take a look at that?
[John Garrett] Yeah. Sounds good. So share the screen again. So we’ll go back to eBird Explore page here. And if I want to go birding in Cape May, there’s a number of ways to do this. You can type in Cape May here, Explore Regions. And here, we can see all of the most recent observations. We can sort it by last seen. So these are the most recent observations.
First seen will show us when there’s a new record for this region. You can explore the top media, high counts, recent visits down here. You can see all of the most recent checklists coming in. And then I like to go to the map. And this will show all of the top hotspots in Cape May, which can really help inform where I want to actually go.
Another thing you can do is here, there’s a button for target species. So if you click on that, here’s a list of all of the birds in Cape May County that I have not seen in Cape May County. So if I really just want to target what will be new for my list there, this will help me do that. And I can change it too, so that it’s just birds that are around at this time of year in March. I can change it to birds that would be new for my state, or US, or ABA life list, or world even, which right now is dovekie. And yeah. This is a super useful tool.
[Lisa Kopp] Very cool. I should also mention that for those of you who signed up on Zoom, you will automatically be getting an email with the recording of this talk. So we’re trying to fit in a lot of information into an hour. So if the demos feel a little fast for you or if you’re still trying to find your footing with eBird, you will be able to go back and watch this.
And if you missed the Zoom registration or you’re watching on Facebook, you can always go to the Bird Academy open lectures page. And that has all of our archived talks, which includes some other talks about specific eBird features that we’ll mention today. But also this video will be posted up there in the next few days. You can go back and watch that. And we’ll put the link to that page in the chat as well. Just wanted to make sure people know that as we’re getting into these demos.
Oh, Jenna. You wanted to make sure that people remembered to download something specific, right?
[Jenna Curtis] Yeah. So John just showed some great tools to help you plan a trip using eBird data. And I’m seeing some questions about where you can use these data. eBird data are everywhere in the world. No matter where you’re thinking of exploring data, there are probably ever checklists from that region. So eBird is basically anywhere that someone has submitted a bird report or a bird list. And it covers every country. So definitely have fun exploring out there. Learn about some really cool new birds.
But with regards to the exploring data question, I just wanted to show another reason that Merlin is such a great supplement to eBird. Is that in the Merlin app, when you finally reach your location, or you’re thinking about going to a location, I’m in the Merlin Bird ID app right here. And what Merlin does is it gives you customized likely bird lists for any location. And so I can actually filter my likely bird list for Cape May.
And maybe I’ve got some ideas where I want to go. I’ve used the eBird data to see what I can be looking forward to or targets to look for. But then, I can use Merlin to explore my likely bird list for today in Cape May or a specific date and actually get sounds, photos, and bird ID guidance when I’m actually birding that location.
[Lisa Kopp] Very cool. And actually, I just noticed that Jennifer H is here. So happy early birthday, Jennifer H. And hopefully, this helps you on your trip to Cape May. We’re getting so many great questions in the Q&A. Jenna or John. Jen, I noticed you’ve got some marked here that you wanted to answer live. I just want to make sure if there was any there that you wanted to talk about before we moved on, or should we just get back to the pre-submitted questions?
[Jenna Curtis] Yeah. I think that those questions that we’ve marked to answer live will fit in really well with some of the other questions we’re going to be tackling soon.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. OK. So Jane T asked. I’d like to know if there’s a quick way to scroll through bar charts. And I know Jenna showed a little bit of that on Merlin right now. But John, do you want to show us that related to eBird?
[John Garrett] Yeah, definitely. And so here, we’re looking, we can go back to the Explore page. And say we want to pick a hotspot in Cape May again. And so here’s Cape May itself. And then if you want to look at just one of the hotspots here. And you can do this for any region. I’m going to pick Cape May point down here, which is the top hotspot in Cape May.
There’s a couple of ways to look at the bar charts. One is you right here on the left, here’s a button that says bar charts. And this takes us to the good old fashioned bar charts that have been part of eBird since basically it started. Another thing you can do is go to the illustrated checklist, which shows basically the same thing, but it has all of these photos and audio attached to it, which are like a really nice representation. And you can filter it to ones that just have photos. If contributing things that are lacking is what motivates you, you can look for ones that are needing photos. That’s always kind of fun.
And another thing that’s nice about it is there’s this jump to species feature. So if you want to get down a little farther in the bar charts to a particular thing like, oh, I don’t know. Ruby-crowned Kinglet. You can jump straight there. And we can look at this nice photo of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in these bar charts.
And another nice thing is if you hover your mouse over these bar charts, it’ll tell you the frequency. And what this means is that’s the percentage of complete checklist in eBird that are reporting that species for the application. So this is a great way to learn status and distribution of birds for wherever you are, wherever you’re going. And I really encourage everyone to check these out.
[Lisa Kopp] Thanks, John. We’re getting questions about, are those same bar chart features available on the eBird app?
[John Garrett] Yes. Or Jenna, were you going to take that question?
[Jenna Curtis] No. Go for it. Yeah, no. Yeah. You talk. I’ll pull up my screen and show them while you’re explaining.
[John Garrett] OK. Yes. Those are available in the eBird app. So I’m going to share my phone here. And so in eBird Mobile. Then you can go to Explore. And I can see all of the hotspots in my radius. And I’ll just pick a hotspot here. I’ll start this by most species. Let’s take Hog Hole, one of my favorite hotspots.
Tap on details. And it can take a while to load if there’s a lot of data. And maybe I should have chosen a hotspot with pure data downloaded. Lot of people using eBird here where the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is. But here it is eventually. So these are the same bar charts basically that you see in eBird on the website.
And this is a great way to just quickly check in the field if you want to make sure that that thing I thought was rare is actually rare, or this thing is actually common here. You can look at the last 30 days. You can change that date if you want. Or 83 species that are likely. Just whatever is generally expected at this time of year. Or you can look at all time. And then you can see every bird that’s ever been reported at this hotspot. There’s quite a few. And see the complete bar charts that way.
[Jenna Curtis] We’ve had a couple of questions both live in the chat and also submitted that talk about seasonality or seeing which birds are resident versus migratory. John, will you pull up your bar charts on the website again for a second. I think you have them preloaded. So if you’re curious to know whether a bird is migratory or if it’s in your area year round, you can use these bar charts as a great way of telling when birds are going to be around you.
The bar charts indicate when a bird is present and how frequently it tends to be reported on eBird checklists during that time. So Tree Swallow. Here’s an example of a bird that is more or less reported on eBird checklists throughout the year. And the taller the bar means the more frequently it occurs on folk’s eBird checklists.
But if you look at the Purple Martin, that’s a bird that’s only reported on bird checklists in the summer months. And then there are no bars in the winter months, suggesting that’s a migratory bird. And then there are a couple of examples of birds, like Bank Swallow down below, that look like they come through in the spring and the fall. Cliff Swallow. Another good example of a bird that’s around this area only in the spring and the fall. And then there might be a couple of winter birds too that only have bars in the winter months.
But this is a way that eBird bar charts can be really useful at indicating when a bird starts to appear, when it should arrive in the spring or leave in the fall. Or if you’re looking forward to seeing you this year, what months you’re most likely to see it.
[Lisa Kopp] That’s so helpful. A little bit of a crystal ball for birding. Just a really quick question. Someone asked what a hotspot is. So in eBird vocabulary, what does a hotspot mean? John, you want to answer that one?
[John Garrett] Sure. So hotspot is basically any location that gets birded by more than one person repeatedly. They generally are publicly accessible locations. And they generally aren’t just people’s yards. There can be rare exceptions to that. And you generally want to mark those hotspots in some way. But yeah. Any location that gets covered by multiple people, and you want to aggregate those data in some way and be able to see all of everyone’s eBird observations in the same bar charts. That can be an eBird hotspot.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you. So let’s get into some information about entering data. We’ve explored a lot of data, which is all based on things that people have entered, what they’ve seen. So first, John, this will be for you, again if you don’t mind. Can people enter birds that they hear, or should they just enter birds that they see?
[John Garrett] Yeah, definitely enter the birds that you hear into either. And it’s sort of like visual sightings, that any bird that you hear for which you’re confident in the ID should be entered. If you’re not super confident, it’s OK to leave that out. In fact, it’s better if you do. And we can talk about that more later.
But it really, really helps us understand where and when birds occur, which is part of the whole point. And in some cases, like here in the northeast, birding in the spring, that can be the difference between 50 species and five species if you’re only including the birds that you see. So please do report the birds that you hear. And if you don’t know birds by sound that well, that’s OK too.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. OK. So Jenna, this one will be for you. Can you enter eBird observations for past dates? Like what if you have lists from a few years ago. This is a popular question, pre-submitted and live right now. So I know people are excited to hear if they can put in those historical data that they’ve been holding on to.
[Jenna Curtis] Yes. That answer is yes. Historical observations from the past are just as important as observations of birds that you’re collecting today. And it’s definitely possible to enter those past checklists into eBird. We recommend doing so through the eBird website. It’s generally a little easier to select a past calendar date through the website. But you can also do it on the mobile app. Just by tapping the date on the starting screen of the app, you can change it to a past date.
There is one key rule that if you’re entering data from past dates you should follow. And that is we really want every eBird checklist to correspond to a single calendar date. That means no checklists that span multiple days. And so if you’ve got a list, and you don’t remember the exact date, we do have some policies for that. We’re going to pop some links into the chat on how to enter past pre-eBird checklists. I’ll make sure that link gets available.
But basically, just some rules if you’re entering data that you don’t have exact details for, you can still do that. There’s just special policies around it. But yes. Please do get your past checklists into eBird. It’s a great way to get your life list, that list of all the birds you’ve seen in your life up to date. And it also makes your targets more accurate.
We had a question about what targets are. Those are birds that you’ve never reported to eBird or birds that are missing from your life list. And so the more accurate your life list is, the more accurate your target suggestions are going to be. And so again, we’ll make sure that link for entering pre-eBird life lists gets added to the chat.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you. So related to targets. We know that there are some people who really target rare birds. And we had a question. Alba S asked, for rare birds, what’s the best way to provide evidence that they were present? John, you want to answer that one?
[John Garrett] That’s a really great question. We all love rare birds. And for birding, there are going to be times that we just run into them. And what do you do? So what eBird does– I’m going to screen share my phone again here. So say I’m birding. I start a checklist. And I have something rare fly over, like a Ross’s Goose. And it’s going to have this rare flag next to it, which tells me to please add comments for this observation.
So what do I do? Photos and sound recordings are often the best documentation for things. But very often, that can’t happen. So you can enter comments about your observation here. So I might say that flying with Snow Geese about half the size and with a tiny, stubby bill, which gives both a description of what the bird looked like and a comparison with another more common bird next to it. These are often helpful details to help document what you really saw.
We have help center articles, including one on the eBird review process and one on how to document your observations. That really goes over how to best do these sorts of descriptions. But the key things are to describe what you really saw. And it’s often helpful to compare other similar species that were maybe nearby and how you ruled those out.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. That’s really helpful. Thank you. And Jenna, did you want to talk a little bit about high counts? How to deal with those?
[Jenna Curtis] Yeah. So if you’re entering data into eBird like John suggested, sometimes, you’re going to get a flag or a notification you’ve entered something unusual. This can happen for a rare species and also if you’ve entered a number of birds that’s unusually high for that location and time of year.
And so if you get flagged, the flag indicating that orange icon asking for more details for a high count, you just follow the same basic process that John just described. But instead of describing the birds, you might also include notes about how you counted. Whether it was an estimate or an exact count, whether all the birds were in one group or whether it was constant stream of birds across the sky while you were birding. Anything to kind of help folks understand how you reach that number. Those sort of detailed notes are always helpful to help others appreciate the really cool and unusual sighting that you’ve observed.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. And then I know we’re not going to get into the details of it, but do you want to mention how Merlin could be used to verify sound or to collect the sound recording? We’ve gotten a couple of questions on that too. We’ll get into more about Merlin next week of course.
[Jenna Curtis] Yeah. I think John’s got a great example here. We’ve seen a couple of questions about how do you upload sound recordings, photos to your checklists, ways of documenting a rare bird, or just sharing a cool sighting. Especially if you’ve been using that Merlin app to identify birds by sound, you collect those sound recordings on the app. And so John’s going to show us how to take sound recordings or photos from a device and put them on your eBird checklist.
[John Garrett] Yeah. So I’ll screen share here again. Here it is showing up. There we go. So here’s Merlin. And you can use sound ID to both get recordings of birds that you’re hearing. If you’re hearing something you think is unusual, this is a quick way to get a recording of it. And then it saves your recordings here.
I think it’s important to note, Merlin Sound ID has an AI that will identify birds for you. It’s important to have your location selected when using Merlin Sound ID, so that it gives you the most accurate results. But if you have a recording on Merlin, you can use this as documentation for any bird observations that you make in eBird.
So here’s my list of sound recordings. They look a little bit messy. And here’s a recent recording I got of a barred owl. So how do I add this to my eBird checklist? There’s this button right here, this little square with an arrow pointing out of it and you can use this to export. So you can share this to your email or to your files. And yeah. That’s a great way to save that recording and then upload it to your eBird checklist later. And I’ll quickly demo that here actually.
A couple of points to reiterate photos and media should be added to submitted eBird checklists. You can do that through any internet browser. So we say the eBird website, but just remember that you can, like John’s got here, you can open an eBird checklist on an internet browser on your phone. And it will allow you, if you open it on your phone, to upload media from your mobile device. That’s what John’s showing here.
[John Garrett] Yeah. Oops. Wrong thing. Anyways, this is where you go to the ad media page. And I can dig around in my files and add that recording that way.
[Lisa Kopp] Yeah. And just to put a fine point on it. That’s the eBird mobile website. Not the eBird app. Right?
[Jenna Curtis] Right. Right. It’s currently not possible to upload media through the app. But again, go to any submitted checklist in the app. And you’ll have the option to open it in ebird.org at the bottom of the checklist.
[Lisa Kopp] It will navigate you right out of there.
[Jenna Curtis] Exactly. And when you’re doing that on your phone, it’s accessing your phone’s files. So the Merlin recording you saved will be available for upload.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. Lots of questions about counting birds. So if there’s a big flock, how do you count them? Maureen B asked that. And Katie F asked, how should you count juvenile birds, like ducklings or goslings? Jen, do you mind?
[Jenna Curtis] Yeah. Lots of great counting questions. It’s super exciting to hear people wanting to count birds. Counting is some of the most important things you can do. It’s really valuable scientific information that helps researchers understand changes in population over time. So please, please, do count whenever possible.
We just ask that you do your best. Estimates are OK. You don’t need an exact number, just the number that you feel is representative of what you counted out in the field. You can estimate by tens, hundreds, or even thousands, if you’re dealing with a really big flock of birds. And know that no matter what your estimate is, it’s going to be more informative than no number at all. So just do your best. Take a deep breath, relax, count those birds. And report it on your checklist.
If you’ve got a feeder situation or somewhere that you’re birding, that birds are coming in and out, and you’re not sure if they’re the same birds or not, we recommend entering the largest flock size that you see at one time. And so if it’s 12 chickadees at your feeder at once, and you never see a larger flock, enter 12 and add on any obviously unique individuals that weren’t part of that flock.
So if you’ve got a special cardinal or a special chickadee that looks different, and you know that bird was not part of the big flock, you can tag that one on as well. And yeah. Just be conservative if you’re not sure if it’s the same bird or not. I generally recommend treating it as the same bird unless you’re confident it’s different. We have a few other helpful tips for counting birds that will pop in the chat, some guidelines on how to count birds for the eBird website.
And as a note, if you just can’t count a flock, it went by too quick, or it’s a historical list, and you don’t have the exact count, you can enter x. That is what we would prefer you enter if you don’t have a count please. Don’t enter one. One means one individual. Use x instead. But again, any time you have an opportunity to count, that is so important for science.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. Yeah. And that link in the chat will provide some specific how tos. I know there are different techniques for sort of how to estimate based on grids and things like that. We just had a demo of that during the GBBC webinar, the Great Backyard Bird Count webinar a couple of weeks ago.
So Becky T asks, if the Merlin app picks up the song of a bird I can’t see, and I really wouldn’t be able to identify it on my own, should I enter this in eBird?
[John Garrett] That’s a great question. So please only report birds that you yourself are personally confident in the identification. One of the nice things about the Merlin Sound ID feature is that it will bring up recordings that are in Merlin of that species. And you can use that to compare to see if that’s actually accurate. That’s a great learning tool. But if you’re not totally confident that it’s accurate, I would not enter those.
And if you’re not confident about a bird in general, but you think you know, like, OK, this is some kind of flycatcher. You can enter that as what we call a flycatcher “spuh” or flycatcher sp., which stands for species. Those are often called “spuhs” by birders. Or also slashes is another term that birders like to use. Like if you see something that’s either a Western or a Clark’s Grebe, or maybe 1,000 of them, and you’re not totally sure which ones they are, you can enter 1,000 Western slash Clark’s Grebes. And that’s completely fine.
[Lisa Kopp] That’s great. That’s a helpful insider tip. All right, Jenna. We had several people who wrote to say that they’re interested in trying to figure out how to use eBird more efficiently, or they want tips for using the mobile app. So Gary M asked, how do I correct a checklist for time and mileage if I forgot to stop tracking and didn’t realize it until I got home?
[Jenna Curtis] It happens to all of us. And this one really spoke to me because I did this just the other day. And so I was like, I have an example for that one. So I’ll share my screen. And so if you’re using the eBird Mobile app, you’ll notice that it keeps a GPS track of your location while you’re birding. Which is great because it estimates the distance for you, and you don’t have to worry about those details.
But sometimes, you leave a track running. And you need to correct that distance later, so it accurately reflects your birding. So here, I am back in the eBird Mobile app. I’m going to tap the checklists option at the bottom of the screen. And here, we have submitted and not submitted checklists that I’ve submitted through the eBird Mobile app. This won’t include any checklists I’ve submitted from other devices or the website. This is specific to this device.
And it’s important to say right now. What I’m about to show you only works on not submitted checklists. By the time you’ve submitted a checklist, it’s no longer possible to edit the GPS track. But after I’ve shown this, we’ll talk about ways that you can edit submitted lists if you need to correct some information, including your distance and your effort.
But again, I’m going to start with this not submitted list that I started a couple of days ago. And I looked at the effort later before I submitted. And I said, whoa. 438 minutes, 37 miles. I didn’t travel that far. I had left the app running after I finished birding. I had forgotten to stop my list. But it’s no problem because I haven’t submitted it yet.
So I’m just going to tap this little wiggly rectangle next to the miles box. That little wiggly rectangle or map icon. If you tap it, you can edit your GPS track. And so I’ve got a pencil icon in the lower corner, which is what I’ll use to adjust the start and end points of my track. And so I’m actually going to change the end to remove that big long trip I took to the grocery store.
And as I’m dragging this slider, not only is it adjusting the track. But if you look at the top, it’s also changing my duration and my distance. So the time that I spent birding. It’s correcting that and removing all the portions of the track that I wasn’t birding. So that’s a large swath I’ll fix that. And edit my track.
And I actually might want to do that one more time just to adjust it a little more further. So it actually just covers the single stationary point I was birding. Here we go. That looks about right. And so now, I’ve, in one fell swoop, basically corrected my GPS track, adjusted my distance and my time to account for when I was birding.
John, do you want to show how to edit a checklist once it’s already been submitted? Oh, it looks like I’ll have to tap the minute box, too.
[John Garrett] Yeah. I’m happy to. So there’s a number of ways to do it. I generally like to edit my checklist on the website, but you can do it on the app as well. But just because when I’m on the website, that allows for like the more fine tuning things that you really want to be careful about.
So here is back to the eBird website. And I can go to my eBird and then pick a recent checklist. And if I want to edit something about this checklist, I have a number of ways to do it here. I can edit the date and effort up here. I can edit the location here. And then there’s a lot of options here under checklist tools.
Here I can also edit the location or date or species. Add media. Share the checklist with others. Happy to talk about any of these. I can edit the species right here. And here’s the same species list, but in the web format. And make any changes that I need to hear.
[Jenna Curtis] And just a quick note that if you’re not seeing these options on a checklist that you’ve submitted, you’re on the website. You see your name. John sees his name in the left side there. But if you don’t see these options to add media or edit the checklist, make sure you’re logged in. Your username should appear in that upper right corner when you’re logged in. If you see a blue sign in button, tap that, sign in, and then the options to edit your checklists should appear.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. There’s a great question in the Q&A. Because you’re talking about GPS locations and how eBird will automatically track that for you. What do you do if you don’t have a signal? If you don’t have a GPS signal? How can you how can you relate that to eBird after the fact? Jenna, do you mind answering that one? Sorry.
[Jenna Curtis] Yeah. Yeah. Sure. Generally, you need a GPS signal to be using the eBird Mobile app. We recommend keeping location services on. If your phone is just not getting a signal for any reason, again, it’s always easy to keep a pen and paper list or keep a list separately and then enter it into the eBird website later. And that’s what I recommend if your phone dies as well. Any time you’re not able to submit an eBird Mobile checklist, there’s always that handy pen and paper backup. John, do you have any other suggestions?
[John Garrett] I just wanted to add that having GPS service is not the same thing as having cell service necessarily. So you can start an eBird checklist, and it can record your location. You will need cell service to actually submit the checklist later. But you can at least start the checklist and get the GPS track running while you don’t have service.
[Lisa Kopp] Right. Yeah. That is an important distinction. We’ve got some questions about eBird alerts. John, would you mind taking that one?
[John Garrett] Sure. So I’m here at eBird. I can go to Explore again. And then down here in Explore, there is this page called alerts. So what are alerts? I’m subscribed to a lot of them here. There’s this two kinds of alerts. One are rare bird alerts. Like here’s one for Tompkins County. And this will show me everything that was flagged, everything that’s rare for here that has been reported in the last seven days. And I can check more details here.
So say that hypothetical Ross’s Goose example earlier. If I had really seen one and entered that checklist, that would show up here. And then other birders could be aware that, oh, there’s a Ross’s Goose flying over. Maybe I should go out and see if there’s others happening.
And the photos will show up here. One of the great things about alerts is that, and this is an example where I’m subscribed already, but I’m just going to unsubscribe for this demo. You can click this subscribe to this alert button. And then you’ll get emails to your inbox. And you can change this to whether you want a daily email. Or if you’re really into it, you can do an email every hour, when there’s new observations here.
And the same thing goes for the other type of alerts, and that’s needs alerts. So we can enter any location in the world here for a rare bird alert or needs alert. So I’ll pick a county that I haven’t heard it as much. How about Queens? And that might be a bad example because I’ve never birded Queens. So this will be a lot.
And here is a different sort of list. Instead of everything that’s flagged in eBird, this is a list of everything that I haven’t seen that’s been reported in the last seven days. So it’s a little bit like targets, but it doesn’t show the frequency information. It just shows the sightings directly. And as with rare bird alerts, you can subscribe to these and get these to your inbox daily or hourly.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. Hourly alerts.
[John Garrett] Some people are subscribed to 20 or 30 hourly alerts. It can be fun.
[Lisa Kopp] Oh, my goodness. Yeah, so we’ve done some really great webinars that talk about conservation stories and what we’re learning about birds thanks to eBird data. So we obviously wanted this hour to be about answering the questions that came from the audience, but we got a really great question from Albert M that said, I’m among many birders who are concerned about the effects of climate change on our feathered friends. So I wondered if Jenna, you could touch on how eBird is helping, and why this data is important for conservation efforts?
[Jenna Curtis] Yeah. Yeah. It’s a great question. And it’s wonderful to see so many people engaging with eBird and using eBird as a way of helping community science inform conservation efforts. The data that you enter into eBird gets used by researchers all over the world, for everything from creating new laws and regulations, to identifying protected birding regions or important habitat areas. Students use it for science projects and to learn more about birds.
And so by contributing to eBird, by submitting these lists, you are making a difference in our understanding of birds around the world. So thank you so much. If you want to make a difference and make sure that your checklists are the most valuable for scientists, I recommend taking that eBird Essentials course or checking out our help center for some more tips and best practices for enhancing the value of your checklists for science.
Like I said earlier, counts are a big way of adding value to your checklist. Making sure you’re reporting all the species you can identify is another one. And then limiting your checklists to specific habitats. Don’t do a checklist that travels across the countryside and covers multiple habitats. Try to keep them a little more limited. Those are all great ways of not only contributing to this really, really important global database of birds, but also making sure that your observations are useful.
I just wanted to also, while I have the mic, there were a couple of questions from folks in the chats when John was showing alerts, saying that they were seeing common birds in their alerts, or they weren’t sure why certain birds were showing up in that list. They didn’t seem all that rare.
So it’s important to remember that statewide alerts are aggregations or compilations of county level rarities. So something that might not be rare in your county could be rare in a different part of the state. And that statewide alert is going to combine all the county-level rarities.
Another note is that rare subspecies are also included in alerts. And so if someone’s reported a relatively common species but a very unusual subspecies of it, that will go out on alerts as well. So those are two reasons why something that seems kind of common to you might be on alerts.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. And John, could you just speak a little bit to data integrity? I know we’ve talked about ways that we can enhance checklists. I know when I first got familiar with eBird, I was really scared to use it as sort of an early stage birder, I was like, well, I’m going to mess up the data. I don’t want to submit something, even if I think it’s right, it could be wrong. Could you speak to a little bit of the system put in place so that people feel confident in their submissions?
[John Garrett] Yeah. So one of the great things about eBird is we have an eBird review process. And we have a team of over 2,000 volunteer reviewers who have agreed to help eBird have the best data set possible. And what they do is they help manage these filters that determine what is rare for a region. And they help make sure that the quality of the data is as good as possible. We have a description of how this process works in the eBird Help Center that I think has been linked to. And this goes over in pretty good detail how it all works.
So it’s possible, if you report a rare bird, say it entered that Ross’s Goose earlier and didn’t really enter any notes about it, I might get contacted by a reviewer who will ask me to enter more comments about that Ross’s Goose. And that’s really if you think about it, a really good opportunity because these are often the best experts in the world. And they’re there to help you. So if you get an email from an eBird reviewer, that’s nothing to be afraid of. That’s an opportunity to meet with some of the best birders in the world.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. And I remember learning the really important distinction of the definition of a complete checklist in eBird language is not necessarily that you were able to identify every bird that you heard or saw, but that you were submitting what you confidently could identify. And even that information is incredibly helpful for scientists because it shows what maybe wasn’t there. And in combination with the other millions and millions of sightings, the data integrity is still there.
I see someone in the chat said, I’ve been too scared to submit daily checklists because I’m worried that I could mess up the data. So I just want to make sure people feel confident in the incredible system that eBird is. That what has been defined and set out really does keep the data integrity at the highest level possible. So Jenna and John, anything that you want to say as we wrap up in the last minute or two before I get into our final announcements?
[Jenna Curtis] Definitely check out that Merlin webinar next week. It’s going to be so much fun to talk about the really cool birding features of that app as well. And then the spring migration webinar after that. And thanks, everyone, for being a part of eBird and for being a part of this amazing birding community. And knowing that your bird observations count and make a difference.
[Lisa Kopp] And John and Jenna, thank you so much for doing this. It’s like being able to answer these questions one after the other is so impressive. And I hope that it’s given our attendees skills that they’ll be able to go out and use this afternoon hopefully.
As I mentioned at the top of the hour, those of you who registered on Zoom will automatically be emailed a link with the recording of this video. And we will actually include a couple of the top linked resources because I know that Sarah has been doing such a wonderful job putting things in the chat. But it’s a lot. And for privacy purposes, we actually can’t share the chat. So now is a good time if you want to go through and copy and paste any of those links.
Anyone on Facebook, We will be posting the recording of this video onto the Bird Academy page. So go there and check it out soon. And then we hope that you will also join us for the next couple of weeks of webinars. So thank you again, John and Jenna. And thank you to our audience for all the wonderful questions and your participation in this incredible, incredible project that is eBird.
Thanks, everybody. Have a great rest of your day. Bye.End of transcript
Spring is approaching! And with it comes wonderful opportunities to experience birds during migration. eBird is here to help you get the most out of spring birding. Join our webinar and discover the power of eBird—just in time for peak birdwatching. During this live Q&A, eBird team members will answer your questions and explain how to find and report birds, share checklists, add photos or recordings, and more. Submit questions in advance during registration or live during the webinar.
- Explore the eBird website to learn about species, regions, and so much more
- Take Bird Academy’s free eBird Essentials course to understand the basics of this powerful tool
- Visit the eBird Help Center for answers on issues and FAQs